1914 WW1 BSA Folding Bicycle: ‘MACHINE FOLDING, GENERAL SERVICE’ (28″ Wheels)

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There are, more especially on the Continent, critics who advocate the use of the folding cycle for military purposes. I cannot but believe that these must mostly be people who have never ridden a folding bicycle. It is heavy, lacks rigidity and strength, entails loss of time in folding and unfolding, and even when it has been folded and is strapped on to the back in such a manner, by the way, that it cannot possibly be unstrapped except by the assistance of a comrade, it is the most unwieldy burden I have ever carried.

The advantages claimed for it, even if real, would hardly compensate for these drawbacks; but the advantages are theoretical rather than practical. It is claimed that cyclists when they wish to cross fields, etc., will dismount, fold their bicycles and stow them on, their backs. I was once the proud possessor of a folding bicycle, which I used for experimental purposes, and I can assure you that fur half a dozen excellent reasons nothing would induce me to take one on service, or if I did it would never be folded except when the spring got out of order and it collapsed automatically, which is one of its unexpected habits.

By Captain. A. H. TRAPMANN, Adjutant, 25th (Cyclists) Battalion (County of London) The London Regiment. 16th December, 1908


WW1 BSA Folding Bicycle

Officially described as: ‘MACHINE FOLDING, GENERAL SERVICE’

Frame Number 19547

24 Inch Frame

28″ Wheels

Tyres: 28 x 1/34″

(Now sold)

The first time I saw an early military folding bike was in an auction in 2008. I didn’t bid for it, and regretted it after. I think Tony Oliver was the successful bidder.

This one subsequently came up for sale when I didn’t have any money to buy it. I sold some bikes to get the money, but then the seller (my friend Ricky Howard) changed his mind and decided to keep it. Eventually he relented and I ended up with it and, as a result of its ownership, I started learning more about World War 1 bicycles and eventually wrote a book on the subject.

Ricky had bought it from Ned Passey’s daughter. The chap she got it from had confirmed its provenance in World War 1.

What particularly strikes me about this machine is that, despite its large size, once you get the hang of it, it’s very easy to fold. Mind you, I don’t think I’d fancy wandering around with it on my back 🙂

You can clearly see here the upper and lower pivots for folding it.

The two points to remember for faster folding are:

1. The pedals need to clear the front mudguard as it’s folded round. Bear in mind that it has a coaster hub, so if the pedals need adjusting you must lift the bike to do so.

2. The handlebars point backwards when folded, ie the brake lever goes over the saddle. I suppose that if the seat was too high this might present a problem.


B.S.A. BICYCLES AND MOTOR BICYCLES IN WARFARE: ‘In addition to the large quantities of Service Rifles required for the New Army, there has been a constant demand for B.S.A. Bicycles and Motor Bicycles, huge numbers of these being supplied both to the British and Allied Governments. A special type of Military Bicycle which can be folded and carried on the back when necessary has also been supplied. On almost every Front B.S.A. machines are to be found, and have won great appreciation for their reliability.’ (From BSA’s history booklet, published by BSA in 1918)

This photo was in Cycling magazine dated 15th May 1915.


The official name for this bicycle, according to the War Office description, was ‘Machine, Folding, General Service.’ They were made in large quantities for WW1, but very few now survive. They were also in use in the early years of WW2, until the BSA Airborne was introduced in 1942.



There are reports of trials of the various types of folding military bicycles that took place in the early years of WW2. No doubt because this model and the Phillips were heavy machines, the Ministry stipulated that any new folding bike needed to weigh under 23lbs.

Here you can compare it with its eventual successor, the twin-tube BSA Airborne, introduced in 1942. The early Airborne is particularly striking in its design: all its tubes are twinned.




The rear rack is also folding.